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Monday, July 28, 2008

Dialogue With An Indian Muslim

Last week, I succumbed to tempation and actually posted something on the Talkback section of an article in the Jerusalem Post. I usually avoid Talkback or any other "comments" section of the media since they largely reflect the extremes of any issue, and frankly, the rancor of the comments drives me away.

However, one poster who identified him/herself as an Muslim from India asked about anti-Semitism and why Jews always feel victimized. He/she got a number of shameful responses, including one that labeled the questioner as "antiSemitic." (Honestly, people!)

But the questioner persisted, and I felt he/she was entitled to an intelligent answer. I tried to formulate one, referencing the second-class status of Jews in both Moslem and Christian cultures for centuries, the denial of civil rights to Jews in both the aforesaid cultures, the migration of such entrenched anti-Jewish hatred from religious prejudice to nationalist hatred (disguised as 'race') culminating in the Holocaust.

The response I received back from the questioner agreed with my position that the Jews therefore felt entitled to a homeland of our own, but why are we now the 'oppressors' against Arabs in our 'apartheid' society.

I always wonder, at moments like this, if we're all living on the same planet.

I started by stating that like all democracies, Israel (like India) is imperfect but strives for the goal of being a state that, while Jewish in character and designed for refuge, still allows full civil rights and responsibilities for all of its communities. I added that while there is prejudice between communities (such as Arab v Jewish, religious v secular, Ashkenazim v Sepharadim v Ethiopian v Russian) the school system, the courts and other instruments of a democratic society strive to bring these segments together as a cohesive society without prejudice.

Granted, its an uphill task. There isn't enough money, there isn't enough goodwill yet, and sadly, there isn't enough (yet) understanding between these communities. As long as the Arabs feel the Jews don't belong here, and the Jews feel that all Arabs are fifth column terrorists, and the ultrareligious feel they have the only hotline-to-HaShem and the rest of us aren't even Jewish, and the secular feel they have the One Universal Truth and the religious of all stripes are primitives worthy only of their disdain......well, it's going to take time.

However, I pointed out, we have Arab police and army officers (some of command rank); we have Arab judges and lawyers; some neighborhoods and townships have accidentally integrated due to housing pressures; my family has been treated by Arab doctors and nurses and Arab patients are treated by Jewish doctors and nurses; Arabs can volunteer for the military although the law says they cannot be drafted against their will; we all ride the same buses and eat in the same restaurants.

So what's this "apartheid" nonsense? South Africa was never this integrated. Come to think of it, neither was the pre-Civil Rights American South. I know--I lived there.

My Muslim correspondent accepted my representations but went on to tell me that the Jews engage in false idolatry, holding that the Land itself is worshipped as THE place for the settlement of the Chosen People. Unlike Islam, which is open to anyone, anywhere, in the world, Judaism is obsessed with maternal bloodlines and a narrow, clannish misinterpretation of the Torah which confines it to a small cabal of people.

My correspondent has clearly been reading the Jerusalem Post and the Rabbinute's disgusting retrograde interpretation of what makes a valid conversion.

I wrote yet another reply discussing Torah, the concept of "Chosen People" and the availability of conversion (at least in theory and past pre-Rabbinute practice) as well as the idea of being "a light unto the nations." I did point out that, again, Christian and Moslem societies traditionally frowned on conversion out of their own religions to Judaism -- and in both societies, the traditional punishment for apostasy was death.

I bit my 'tongue' and refrained from pointing out that no non-Moslem is allowed into Mecca so who are you to complain about our attachment to Israel?

But I did pose a question to my questioner: in what Moslem society today is a human being allowed to convert from Islam to Judaism? How can we be open to the world if the Moslem world punishes such conversion with death

I never heard the answer, if there was one, as the newspaper closed the discussion at that point. Of course, the question is largely rhetorical and asked simply to demonstrate my earlier point: Judaism could never flourish in Christian and Moslem societies because it was deliberately repressed and its followers consigned to poverty, discrimination and statelessness.

It was an interesting exercise in communication from our respective positions. For me, it was frustrating to have a civilized exchange of ideas with someone whose concept of Jews, Israel and Judaism were so clearly out of touch with my reality. However, it does make me ponder just how many Muslims living in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. who have never met a Jew or discussed religion, share these same misapprehensions due soley to ignorance about who and what we are?


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